Mix Up at ME’s Office Leads to Bone Being Buried with Wrong Body

Mix Up at ME’s Office Leads to Bone Being Buried with Wrong Body

(Oakland County Executive Office, Nov. 7, 2018)

Hazel Park, Farmington Hills, MI -The Oakland County Medical Examiner’s (M.E.) Office has uncovered a serious error where a decedent’s bone was buried with the remains of another decedent, Chief Forensic Pathologist Dr. Ljubisa J. Dragovic announced today. The error was discovered while reviewing the case of a woman whose story appeared in the news media earlier this week.

“First, we send our most heartfelt apologies to both families,” Dragovic said. “The medical examiner’s office holds itself to high standards and has a reputation for excellence. In this instance, however, we fell short of those standards and are taking steps to make sure this doesn’t occur in the future.”

The two cases involve Darlene McKenzie, who was identified in 2016 by the University of North Texas (UNT) through DNA bone samples as the teen whose body was found in Farmington Hills in June of 1975, and Donald Smith, whose mummified remains were found in a Hazel Park home in July of 2016. Smith’s bone sample was released in error with McKenzie’s remains to Husband Funeral Home in Westland, Mich. in February of 2017. Smith’s bone sample was buried with McKenzie’s remains in Perry Mount Park Cemetery in Pontiac later that month.

In 2015, the Farmington Hills Police Department reopened the cold case of unidentified remains found in a roadside ditch in June of 1975 in hopes of identifying the body and advancing the investigation. Darlene McKenzie’s daughter, searching for her mother, had submitted her own DNA along with that of her grandmother to the Missing and Exploited Persons Program. Farmington Hills Police submitted blood from the unidentified remains for DNA testing which determined DNA from McKenzie’s daughter and mother was similar to the unidentified remains in the 1975 case. It was determined the unidentified remains should be exhumed for further DNA testing.

The unidentified remains were exhumed by the Oakland County M.E. from Perry Mount Park Cemetery on Oct. 7, 2016. Two bone samples were submitted to the University of North Texas for DNA testing, the same lab which was testing Smith’s bone sample in the same time frame. On Dec. 27, 2016, the Oakland County M.E. was notified that the unidentified remains from Farmington Hills indeed belonged to Darlene McKenzie. The Oakland County M.E. then received Smith’s bone sample back from UNT on Feb. 8. Two days later, Smith’s bone sample and McKenzie’s remains were released together to Husband Funeral Home.

“We are working to determine how the error occurred,” Dragovic said. “When we identify that reason, we will implement corrective actions.”

Darlene McKenzie was buried on Feb. 25, 2017. After the burial, the Oakland County M.E. received McKenzie’s two bone samples from UNT on April 5, 2017. Medical examiner staff immediately notified Husband Funeral Home of McKenzie’s additional remains and delivered them to the funeral home on April 15, 2017.

Smith’s remains were handled by Swanson Funeral Home in Flint, Mich. which arranged cremation. The Oakland County M.E. has notified Smith’s next of kin about the error.

The Oakland County M.E. will exhume McKenzie’s remains at county expense in order to place her two bone samples in the casket with her other remains and retrieve Smith’s bone sample. The M.E. has also discussed the error with McKenzie’s daughter.

“In the medical examiner’s office, we witness the grief families go through every day when their loved ones pass away whether from a tragedy or natural causes,” Dragovic said. “We regret causing both families additional pain because of the serious error in handling their bone samples.”

NOTE:  Police Reports come directly from the Police Department or agency involved.  We generally run these “as is” or with minimal editing for punctuation, spelling, etc. Suspects should not be presumed guilty.  Those needing more information about a case are encouraged to follow up with the reporting agency or court system for the most current information.

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